Black Sheep

by Cascade



Disclaimer: Very little here is mine. Most of the mutants belong to Marvel. Most of the mutant kids belong to Alicia McKenzie. I used to only have Dana and Mark, but with this story I'm adding Nathan Thomas and Alison. They're mine, but you can probably borrow them. Just ask!

Notes: This one's dedicated to my co-writer and dear friend Alicia for dragging me, kicking and screaming, back to fan-fic. Her excellent comments of the first draft of this helped flesh it out further-- some things I even borrowed verbatim because she is such an excellent writer that I couldn't think of any better way to put it. I've had the first half of this on my hard drive for a year now, and I only finished it because of her. This story is peripherally related to her excellent and fascinating and relatively new Pantheon series. Go read it. This takes place a long, long time from now-- And you thought Epinikion was far in the future!!

I close up the last cardboard box, folding the flaps carefully over the sweaters and jeans inside. I probably won't even need this stuff at Stanford-- it's much too warm there, especially this time of year, but mom insisted-- just in case it got cold.

Of course, I really can't blame her. She's been with the X-Men (and then with the XSE) for almost all of her adult life, and when you spend that much time around Storm, you start to expect weird weather.

Of course, I'd be no where near Storm at Stanford. No where near any of them. With any luck I'd be miles away from anyone who could change the weather, read my mind, shoot lasers out of their eyes, or fly. At least if there was anyone who could do things like that at Stanford, they'd keep it to themselves.

I seal the box with tape, and then use it to lever myself to my feet. I'd been kneeling on the floor of my room almost all day, and my knees were stiff. Hobbling over to the window, I look out. There's no one outside in the backyard. It's kind of disappointing. I would have liked to look down and watch someone do something outside while I was in such an introspective mood. Ten years ago-- heck, even five years ago, the backyard would have been full of kids-- the second generation of the X-Men: Clare Summers, Harry Wisdom, Zara and Nick Logan, and the rest-- and then, of course, my brother and I. We would have been playing baseball or swimming in the pond, or maybe one of us would have been sitting outside reading a book.

They don't have much time to do stuff like that anymore. One by one, they all developed their mutant powers. Most of them headed into the XSE, while those who weren't quite so militaristically inclined found other ways, other careers in which they could 'be all they could be'. That's the new philosophy, after all. If you're a mutant, the idea's to be as 'out of the closet' as you possibly can. Used to make me feel more than a little left out.

I used to fantasize that Uncle Hank had been wrong. One day I'd wake up and would have fantastic powers-- I'd be more powerful than any of them-- my X-Factor had just been hiding for all those years. Well, I'm eighteen now, and the prospect is looking less and less likely. Doesn't bother me that much anymore though. They'd probably be more trouble than they're worth, especially with the Olympics coming up.

Dad told me once, that if I really wanted to be a member of an X-Team, I didn't necessarily have to be a mutant. Aunt Domino's power doesn't help her all that much-- she's just like a normal human for the most part-- but she's still an essential member of any team. Of course, the fact that she used to beat the crap out of anyone who made the mistake of underestimating her didn't hurt.

Maybe I wanted to be with the XSE when I was younger-- all that heroic dashing about appealed to an adventurous streak that my father blames on my mother's genes-- but I don't think I want that anymore. What I want now is to go to the Olympics.

We were all really active kids, and even though I never developed a power I'd go into the gym with the others. You don't need a mutant power to lift weights or do sit-ups. Then when all the others went off for special powers-training, I went to the pool and swam laps. That's a lot of time in the pool.

Long story short-- that much time in the pool as a kid made me fast enough to join the varsity swim team as a freshman at Salem Center High School. I won state two years in a row, and now I've got a swimming scholarship to Stanford-- which will probably give me a shot at the Olympic trials in two years.

My extended family has done a lot of spectacular things-- but none of them has ever gotten an Olympic medal-- or gotten on a Wheaties box. They might not ever be able to, depending on what the IOC decides.

A few years ago some figure skater was discovered to have been a mutant. He was just a dinky empath-- probably had just enough power to make himself twice as nervous before he went on, but the IOC panicked and stripped him of the gold medal he'd won. After a lengthy legal battle, they gave it back to him, but now there's a huge debate on whether mutants should be in the Olympics or not. I really don't care either way, as long as they have it all figured out by the Summer games-- and as long as they don't make all competitors wear inhibitor collars. Those things have way too much drag.

I look out at the big maple tree in the back yard. I've had this room for 18 years-- with this same view of the maple tree. I wonder what it'll be like to look out the window and see a palm tree instead.

My room is empty. It looks funny this way. I wonder if some one else will move into it or if they'll keep it for me, just in case I decide to come back.

I hear the sound of footsteps in the hall. They sound like my brother's. They stop at my door.

"Hey, Al?"

My brother, of course.

"I'm here. Come on in, Nate."

My parents, in their infinite wisdom, named my brother Nathan Thomas Guthrie. Thomas was Grandpa Guthrie's name-- although he died long before Nate was even born. They named him Nathan after their teacher and friend Nathan 'Cable' Summers-- Uncle Nathan to me. It wasn't so bad when my brother was little. There was Big Nathan, my uncle, Nate, Nate Gray, another telepath who looks a lot like my uncle (It's a long story-- I still can't quite figure it out.) and is sort of a peripheral member of the X-Teams, and then there was Little Nathan, my brother. Of course, then Little Nathan grew up and ended up a strong telepath too, and so it can be a little confusing at times. You can't call him Nate, Nathan, or even Guthrie without making him wonder if you're talking to him or someone else.

I, on the other hand, was named Alison for no particular reason other than it sounded nice. There's no meaning, no family significance, it was just the girl's name that they liked the most. It makes me wonder, on those darker days when I'm going through the perfectly normal teenage phase of blaming my parents for everything, if they didn't expect much from me. He was named after important people with the hope, perhaps, that he would live up to their examples. What about me?

I sigh. Nate probably feels it's unfair for exactly the opposite reason. I have no pressure.

Nate opens the door and slips inside. He's 6'2" but not really all that intimidating-- at least to me-- even in his XSE uniform. He's built like dad-- pretty skinny-- and he's quiet and reserved and serious. He's got almost black hair and eyes like ice and infinite patience. We're not anything at all like each other.

"Hey, Al," he greets quietly. "Dad's brought the van around to the front, so we can start loading your stuff. Is this the last box?" He asks, looking at the box on the floor.

I nod.

"What about those CDs over there? Aren't you taking those?" I look at the pile he's indicating-- about 30 CDs-- all stolen from mom's rather large collection.

"They're mom's. I think she'd be ticked if I took them to the other side of the country."

"I bet she'd let you if you asked her."

"Nah-- If I really miss them I'll just buy my own copies once I get out there."

He pauses and looks at me, uncomfortable for a moment. Then he seems to come to a decision. "You know I'm going to miss you, right?" He says quietly.

"Yeah, I know."

He steps forward tentatively, and then gives me a big bear hug. It's a surprising move to say the least. He's never really been known for his public displays of affection. He's an awful lot like his namesake in that regard. I sometimes think that maybe Nate spent a little too much time around him while he was learning how to control his telepathy. At least Nate didn't pick up the predilection for big guns.

He lets me go as suddenly as he hugged me and then picks up the last box and heads out the door with it.

I follow him out, pausing to shut the door. I look back in on my room. It was a good room. A flood of memories come back:

Loud pillow fights.

Quiet checkers games.

Talks about life with 'big sister' Clare.

Pep-talks before a big meet, and 'don't give up' speeches after a big loss.

I shake my head to rid myself of the reverie and shut the door. It sounds like a safe slamming shut on a part of my life and locking.

More footsteps in the hall. My father this time.

My father is a problem-- The most difficult part of being related to mutants. For as long as I've been alive he's looked about 25. As part of his X-Factor package he's been given immortality. I'm sure in the long term it's a wonderful gift, but on the short term it makes for difficult and uncomfortable parent-teacher conferences. There is a certain point that, when reached, your father being mistaken for your brother just isn't amusing anymore. It doesn't help that we look like brother and sister. The same blonde hair and many of the same facial features except for my green eyes. I've been told I look a little like Aunt Paige did when she was my age.

Don't get me wrong, I love him to death. I was and always will be, I think, Daddy's Little Girl. He spoiled me rotten, lavished attention on me and when other kids' dads were getting a little too old to keep up in basketball and touch football, my dad was still able and willing to be out there with me.

I sometimes think that I was 'dad's' because mom and Nate shared a telepathic/empathic connection that my father was never really as much a part of as he would have liked. I don't know. I just hope he's okay without me.

"Nate says that that's the last box." He tries to say it matter-of-factly, but it doesn't take an empath to see that he's upset about me leaving. He's trying to hide it, but he looks like a puppy I'm about to abandon.

I nod. "I addressed the ones to be shipped out there. The rest I think I can take with me on the plane."

"Sounds good." The way he says it, it doesn't sound good. He stuffs his hands in the pockets of his jeans, and his denim blue eyes scan the empty room. He sighs and blows the air out through his lips-- a sign he's digging for something to say. He looks back at me then, and a small expression of triumph crosses his faces as he comes up with something to say. "Anything else you need? Want to take a book from the library?"

"No. I've got something to read already."

He seems to deflate a little. There's not much more to say. "I guess you're ready to go then." There is an awkward silence and an unasked question. *Are you sure you want to go?*

Family has always been important to dad. His brothers and sisters have always remained close, and he stresses if he's away from them for too long of a time, even when they're as close as Kentucky. I'm moving to California. It was almost cute the way he sorted the fliers from schools on my desk so that the ones geographically closer would be on top. He would slip not-so-subtle comments into conversation about the improving swim coaching at NYU, or the new facilities being built at Penn State.

But he took the campus tours with me, and he knows that Stanford is a perfect fit for me. He knows it's the best school, and he hates it. He grilled the swim coach relentlessly, worked overtime to find any flaw in the campus or program and bring it to my attention, and interviewed professors, registrars, and campus admissions for hours long after I was convinced. He knows that there is no other school that could even come close for me.

And when my letter of admission came, he hugged me and said he was proud of me, and quickly presented me with a Stanford sweatshirt that he'd bought from the bookstore when I wasn't watching. He's happy that I'm happy.

But he hates it.

He runs a hand through his short blond hair, and an expression comes across his features that, just for a moment, makes him look a little older than perpetually 25. I try to ignore the part of me that can tell that he's fighting tears. If he cries, then I'll cry and it's all over. He sighs, flashes a quiet and reserved fatherly 'I'm proud of you' smile, gives me a brief hug and then we walk down the hall together in silence.

We get outside and I see family and 'family' loading the van with all my belongings. They turn and smile. Dad leaves my side to go help, although it doesn't take a telepath to see that there's a part of him that would just love to hinder.

I stand on the porch for a moment, unsure of what to do. My help is not needed to pack. I feel useless again. But I've always felt useless here-- Useless and out of place. I'm probably the only person in the world who has ever dyed her hair blue to *fit in* with her family.

Poor Uncle Hank. He always knew that I was just an ordinary human. He probably knew even before I was born. But I wanted to be one so badly. I had been told that I would never be one, but I thought he was wrong. Nearly every day I would run to his lab with a new trick I'd learned and ask if it meant that I was a mutant.

"Uncle Hank!" I'd say, sprinting into his lab so fast I'd nearly crash into him. "Look! I can wink with both eyes! Mom can't do that! Am I a mutant?"

He'd set me down on a stool in his lab and quietly explain that while my new trick was wonderful and he doubted many people could do it, it didn't mean I was a mutant. I was just a very talented normal human being.

I played ESP games and with Oujia boards in attempts to prove my psychic prowess. I threw myself out of trees in attempts to fly and performed other death defying stunts until my mother threatened to skin me alive. I dyed my hair, painted my nails, colored myself with magic marker-- I even dyed some of my skin with some Silver Nitrate I ran across in chemistry class. Then one day I just stopped. Mom and dad worried until they realized I was just outgrowing a phase. A phase I'd been in nearly all my life.

I walk over to the van, ducking a floating box controlled by some unnamed telekinetic. I guess my brother. The control was good, but not quite as good as Cable's.

Nate inherited the nature of his mutation from our mother, but all his power from our External father. He'll be in the top ten of powerful psis, maybe, but I don't think he'll ever be as powerful as Nate Grey or Cable. It's not for lack of trying. Nate was always the studious one. When the rest of us went to go play he would stay in his room for a few extra hours practicing. He practices to the exclusion of all else sometimes, and mom and dad worry about him, but that's what parents do, I guess. They worry about me, and I'm fairly normal now.

My mother walks over. Unlike my father, she looks her age and perhaps a little older. Her power is terribly draining, and as she gets older she feels it more and more. Her long brown hair is starting to show some gray, and she's not quite in the perfect shape she was in when I was younger. However, she still maintains an air of elegance and upper-class regality, despite the fact that she's spent a good portion of her life fighting a war. She has to crawl through mud and blood as part of her job, but she tries not to let it affect her.

She's all mom now. "You've got everything?"

"Yes, mom." This is possibly the fourteenth time she's asked me this in the past week.

She raises an eyebrow. She's sensed my mild irritance, and gives me a mild scolding look for it, but plunges on.

"You've got your plane tickets? All your registration material and your check-in information for the dorms?" She ticks them off on her fingers.

"Yes, mom. They're all right at the top of my carry-on."

"And your carry-on..."

"Is on the passenger seat in the van. I put it there last night just to be sure."

She walks to the front of the van and looks through the window to check that it's still there.

"OK. Now, we've arranged for Terry Cassidy from the San Francisco XSE branch to pick you up at the airport and take you to school. You remember Terry, right?"

I hide a wince. So much for distancing myself from super-teams. "I can just take a taxi, mom, really."

She gives me a Look. A look that says, "No, you certainly will not take a taxi in a strange town with no one to help you with your luggage and no one to call your parents and report in if anything goes wrong."

Apparently Nate was an accident of sorts. Dad, being from a large family, had always wanted kids, but mom was ambivalent about it. Mom had gotten over all of her ambivalence by the time I was born. Mom was a Super-Mom. All the things that mothers tell their children they can do, my mother really could do. Empathy is just as good as eyes in the back of your head. She knows all, sees all. She knows if you are sleeping. She knows if you're awake. She knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake. She could tell if I was playing sick to get out of a test. She could tell if I was lying. If I had done anything wrong, I was doomed. There was no hiding it. She knew I was in trouble before I did.

However, my mother could also, literally, kiss it and make it better. While this was handy for patching me up after my attempts to fly, it also virtually eliminated sick days. I never got to skip school. My school friends would wax poetic about their latest sure-fire no-fail ways of faking sickness and I would have to shake my head and say lamely, "It won't work. She'll know."

She stands in front of me now, her arms folded and looking slightly irritated. "I would feel a lot better about this if you would let us fly you out."

I unsuccessfully stifle a laugh. "In the Blackbird? I don't think so, mom."

She frowns. "Not necessarily in the Blackbird. Marcus has a private plane that I'm sure he'll let us use, or your father--."

I stop that thought before it starts. "Oh, that would definitely convey the image that I'm trying to portray. Mom, I just want to be a nice, normal, completely average college freshman. The average college freshman does not get flown by her father-- with or without a plane-- to campus. I will be perfectly fine. All the other out-of-state freshman will be doing the same thing I am. I'll probably even meet some on the plane."

Mom has a hard time not seeing me as the helpless one. Compared to my sibling and cousins, I am, relatively speaking, helpless. However, compared to ordinary kids, I am untouchable. I have been trained in self defense by Uncle Logan. I've learned rudimentary mental shielding from Uncle Nathan. I know CPR and first aid thanks to Aunt Cecilia and Uncle Hank. I am in peak physical condition and can outrun or out swim the majority of my peers. Even among my family I have delivered my share of wedgies, noogies and dogpiles. Mom has nothing to worry about.

My father comes by and says as much as he passes us, a big box in his arms.

My mother glares at the back of his head for a moment and then sighs. I can hear him chuckling.

Mom hugs me. "Just be careful?"

"Yes, mom." I say automatically.

The doors in the back of the van slam shut.

"We'll have to get going pretty soon if we're going to catch that plane," dad says.

Clare Summers, who has always alternated between being my best friend and other times being a big sister, walks up to the van. She's been quiet and watchful the whole day-- a mirror of her father. She gives me an enigmatic half smile and a small hug, but doesn't say anything. She doesn't have to. I know what she's trying to convey without words.

The moment is broken as other family members demand their chance to say good-bye. I give hugs and handshakes all around.

"Hold on, young Guthrie! You're not allowed to leave us quite yet." Uncle Hank bounds down the stairs with something in his hands. He comes to a stop in front of me and presents me with a medium-sized box. "A small token of our esteem," he explains, and with a wave of his arm indicates that it is from all of my extended family.

"Thanks," I say. I didn't expect this. I shake off my confusion as I unwrap and open the box.

It's swim gear. REALLY nice swim gear. Top of the line goggles, swim cap, towel, and suit. The cap has GUTHRIE printed in large block letters across the side. It's a cap just like the swimmers in the Olympics wear. I smile in thanks, and then take out the swimsuit. It's cutting edge Speedo, and I know it isn't cheap. It's royal blue with yellow detailing, and something about it looks familiar. Then I see the small red and black circled "X" on the top left corner. I feel my jaw drop. It's my *uniform!* I look up at my family in shock, fighting futilely against tears. I turn to my parents. Everyone merely smiles at me.

I feel Uncle Hank's hand come down on my shoulder and I turn to him. "Make us proud."

Dad checks his watch and gently ushers me into the van as mom gets in as well. I press my face to the window and wave as dad starts it up and takes off down the driveway. The mansion that I've lived in my entire life gets small and fades into the distance, but my friends-- my family-- my *team* stays with me all the way to the airport and will be with me as I set up my new life in California.

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